Effectively skipping or transitioning over periods of time

by Marshall

Question: I am writing a novel based on true stories that take place over fifty years. There will be periods of time where nothing exceptional happens and I would like to transition to say five or ten years down the road. What is the best way to make these sort of transitions?

Answer: Whenever you make a shift in time and space, the key is to let the reader know the shift has happened and to orient the reader in the new setting before he can get confused.

A common way to indicate a break is simply to insert a space in the manuscript. Put in an extra line that is blank except for a "#" character in the centre. A chapter break is also a good way to mark a change in setting. A noticeable change in tone or point of view can also underline the fact that a shift had been made.

Orienting the reader in the new setting/time may be as simple as beginning with the date or a phrase such as, "Three weeks later...," "Berlin, 1944," "Autumn came early that year...," or "I didn't see Tony again until his parents New Year's Day dinner..."

Sometimes, beginning with some detail about the new location can also orient the reader. A time change may be implied or made explicit a few sentences later, but still early in the scene.

The important thing is to let the reader know quickly where and when the story is now happening and whose point of view it is now being told from (if that changes).

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